Refined Propaganda: China’s “National Security Law”, and PLA Exercise in Hong Kong

CCTV coverage, July 4

See what happens? – Xinwen Lianbo, CCTV, July 4.
The exercise didn’t feature
prominently in the broadcast,
and was only shown among a
collection of short news
owards the end of the program.

 

 

“People’s Liberation Army” (PLA) troops stationed in Hong Kong conducted a military exercise at Castle Peak (青山, Green Hill) on Saturday morning, China News Service (CNS, 中国新闻网) reported on the same day. More than 500 Hong Kongers “from all walks of life” were invited as guests, according to the report. An imaginary enemy was occupying twelve successive mountain hills there, according to the screenplay, looking for opportunities to infiltrate the city area and to do damage there (训练场内,依次相连的12个山头被一股假想敌占据。指挥所、迫击炮阵地、地堡工事,假想敌在高地构筑阵地,企图伺机对香港市区实施渗透破坏).  It was the PLA’s task to “annihilate them on the spot”, before they could enter the city (在他们尚未进入市区之前,解放军需要将其就地歼灭).

If the CNS report (whose audience will be mainly mainlanders) reflects what the invited Hong Kongers felt, it was as much a revolutionary opera as an exercise:

In the morning at 10:50, three signal lights rose into the air, and the long-awaited PLA-simulated naval gunfire was opened. At command, the enemy targets were shrouded in smoke.

上午10时50分,三发红色信号弹升空,等待已久的解放军模拟舰炮火力率先开火。一声令下,敌方目标即被硝烟笼罩。

[…]
The turns of firepower attacks didn’t stop. Armed helicopters had just taken off, when mortar bombs arrived at high speed. As the flight speed was too fast, and as the sunlight hampered the eye, the trajectories weren’t clearly visible, but explosions, one to another, could be seen on the opposite hilltop. Six rounds of ten mortars firing, and the enemy targets had suffered heavy destruction.

轮番的火力攻击,并未就此收手。武装直升机刚刚飞离,迫击炮弹急速而来。因飞行速度过快,加之阳光刺眼,现场还没看清弹道,炮弹就已在对面的山头上密集爆炸。10门迫击炮6次齐射,敌方目标遭受猛烈的压制摧毁。

You can probably imagine the rest.

Either the SCMP reporter, the CNS correspondent or this blogger’s translation has got some details wrong though. According to the SCMP, it wasn’t six mortars, but six military helicopters that were mobilised fired on targets set up on the mountain from distances of about 1km.

Either way, the SCMP quotes former Hong Kong security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (叶刘淑仪) as saying that

I don’t think we need to read too much into the timing. I think the garrison has a duty to assure us that they are well-prepared and ready to defend Hong Kong if there is any threat to our security

Her comments referred to a possible link between the exercise, and a sweeping and controversial national security law, passed by China’s “National People’s Congress” three days earlier.

Apparently, the guests did the propaganda work within Hong Kong, telling the SCMP reporter that the timing of the exercise was unimportant, and that the PLA was merely trying to show Hong Kong that it had the power to protect the city.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US broadcaster supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), points out that the exercise on Saturday had been the first time that the PLA troops stationed in Hong Kong had invited media and guests. Two of these, Regina Ip, Ma Dingsheng (马鼎盛, apparently a Fenghuang/Phoenix-affiliated miltary commentator from Hong Kong), are quoted both by the SCMP, and RFA.

The Economist points out that state security is a job for the top, conveying

the remarkable range of Mr Xi’s worries, with potential threats seen to be emanating from sources as diverse as the internet, culture, education and outer space.

While the vagueness of the “national security law passed in Beijing could be followed by detailed regulations later, it was unlikely that its key terms will ever be defined more precisely. To Mr Xi, vagueness is a useful weapon.

There could be a little relief in Hong Kong, however, the Economist adds, given that the bill would not be applied in the territory.

That said, the bill isn’t lacking ambition outside mainland China. Ît obliges not only Hong Kong or Macau, but Taiwan, too, to defend China’s sovereignty, notes the SCMP. Huanqiu Shibao (环球时报, in an article rendered here by Sina), notes that the passing of the “National Security Law” had ccaused shock in Hong Kong and Taiwan (全国人大常委会高票通过新的国家安全法,在香港和台湾引发震撼).

The Huanqiu article suggests – without becoming to specific about this question – that worries in Hong Kong that people seen as daring oppositionals like Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) could be arrested when visiting mainland China were unfounded, as the bill was not applied in Hong Kong for the time being (即使法律暂时不在香港执行).

There were, of course, many people in Hong Kong who welcomed the new state security law, Huanqiu adds. But the article also quotes BBC coverage according to which the government and the public in Taiwan (literally: the court and the commonality, 台湾朝野一致反对大陆新国安法) unanimously opposed the bill.

The propaganda approach is pretty global, and China appears to have learned a lot from the Western political class, in terms of more refined propaganda. Pretty much the way most of Germany’s mainstream media make people believe that Greece’s political class and activists are pampered (and costly, for Germans) idiots, Huanqiu fosters a climate in which mainlanders will no longer ask why the liberties customary in Hong Kong shouldn’t be applied in mainland China, but rather, why there should be “special treatment” for anyone within “Greater China”.

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Related

» One Movement, two Pictures, Nov 27, 2014

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